Homeschool Field Trip to Maui, Hawaii
We live in SoCal, and we have busy lives as do most families here. We do field trips, classes, activities, and lots and lots of driving. When we slow down, it’s only for a short time, as we get ready for out next thing. (I’m squeezing in this post between lunch and cooking class in 45 min.)
Even so, I’ve always felt like we were pretty Zen as a family. We stop to smell the flowers (what few there are in SoCal), and we appreciate the world we live in. We spend a lot of time together. We do fun things. We are fairly mellow, almost to the point of feeling guilty that we’re not all that stressed.
Then we went to Maui. And it was in Maui that I realized just how stressed, overworked, and overstimulated we actually are. Among the coconut and banana trees, with the sound of the waves crashing on the sand and the exotic birds and wild chickens squawking with delight, and under the clear blue skies patched with billowing white clouds over the volcano summit, we discovered freedom.
Not just freedom from responsibility, as comes with most vacations. We found freedom from the incessant “shoulds”, from the pressures to be “better”, “faster”, or any other thing that we’re told we should be. We found freedom from drama - there is no drama in Maui. It’s all good. We were free from technology - we watched TV twice, I checked my email on my phone once or twice a day, and I didn’t even have my computer. We were free from angst, worry, and all the stories in our heads about the future. The past and the future did not exist - only the moment.
I didn’t expect it. It took me by surprise. I thought it would be “just a vacation” that my husband and kids would enjoy. (They are beach and outdoorsy, I am not, being that I generally burn after 5 minutes without SPF 100 sunscreen on.)
But no, Maui had other plans for me.
The exact moment that Maui changed my life, when I knew my heart would never really leave the island, was on the third day of our trip. We decided to go the extravagant tourist route and take a snorkeling cruise. I wasn’t exceptionally enthused about this excursion. My idea of a restful vacation was to sit around on the beach under an umbrella doing just about nothing. But we were in Maui, which is known for its snorkeling, so I had to at least try it. I knew it would be fun, but I was not expecting what was about to happen.
As we put on our masks and got our flippers ready, I didn’t have the feeling of anticipation or excitement. Just a mellow, “it’s so cool to be in Hawaii” feeling. Being out on the rocking boat, in the cool ocean air, water splashing up against the rocks of the small island of Lana’i, just a few miles from the Maui island, that was good enough for me. I was calmly happy. And I was happy my family was having such a good time.
We got our snorkel gear ready, and donned our dive shirts. The many kids on the boat were complaining about how tight the shirts were and how uncomfortable the masks were. It was true, they were tight and uncomfortable. We spent a lot of time getting our gear right.
The boat had a small landing off the back, with a bench and a platform about 3 feet into the water. The kids still struggled with their masks, except Cam, our 12-year-old. He jumped off immediately, and swim out into the coral bay without once looking back.
So I did. I jumped in. And that’s when Maui dipped into my soul.
It’s impossible to describe what it was like for me to put my face into the calm Maui waters for the first time. Quiet, serene, immensely beautiful, weightless, no thoughts at all, happy - these words come close, but aren’t quite right. For those first few moments, I forgot I had to help my kids. I forgot I was a mom doing the momly duties of making sure everyone else was having a good experience. I forgot I was in Maui. I forgot I was human. It was all gone. I was simply - nothing, beyond mesmerized by the beauty of the clear water, brightly colored fish, and extravagant coral. I believe, for the first time in my life, I experienced what the Zen teachers call “nirvana.”
The rest of the snorkel was fabulous. I spent most of my time with Megan, our smallest one. Even at 6, she was having a glorious time, pointing at all the fish and coral, expressing her excitement through cries muffled by the breathing tube. “Rorm, Oog oog!” (Mom, look, look!) Together we explored the cove, and floated through aquatic heaven.
We were out for over an hour, but if felt like moments. Eventually, Megan accidentally gulped a lungful of salt water, and we were getting cold, so we had to leave. I flopped my way back into the boat, and we sailed away from the reef. But that crisply clear water filled with exotic fish and bright coral is still with me. That feeling of being so alive, and so free, created a part of me that never existed before, deep in my heart.
Later that trip, we found a pod of spinner dolphins. There were 50 or 60 of them. Several of the dolphins swam right under the front of the catamaran. There were babies and lots and lots of “couples”. *ahem* But the real treat was watching them jump out of the water and spin.
Nobody knows why they jump out and spin. There are some theories that it’s a mating ritual, or a way of communicating with one another. But the most popular theory is that they do it because it’s fun.
The rest of the week was one great activity after another - boogie boarding, a luau, more snorkeling, exploring the rain forest on the east side of the island on the way to Hana, and eating. Oh my, the eating! Glorious food.
McDonald’s and Burger Kings were everywhere. It’s still civilization, despite all indications that it’s not. We opted out of the fast food and chain food choices, even though they might have been cheaper and easier. Instead, we packed lunches of PBJ and a bag full of local yummies from a rinky dink store called Nagasaka.
In this little store, there were different kinds of sushi, fried rice, and hot food items. Yummmy. And they were super cheap! Even cheaper than here in L.A. Four large tuna sushi, with carrot and some other stuff I don’t know what it was but it was yummy - $2.50!! That and a few chips - lunch! We also went to a local joint called Aloha Mixed Plate. This restaurant got its name from the plantation days when the Japanese, Chinese, Philipino, and native Hawaiann field workers would sit down and eat lunch together. They each had a bit of a different style, and over time, started to share their cultural delicacies with one another. That evolved into what is now called a “mixed plate.”
Not all of our meals were this low price, and we usually ordered way too much food in an attempt to try everything. But finding these two local gems was really a treat.
Returning home was difficult. Returning to all of our responsibilities was part of it. But mostly, it was the mindset and peaceful interaction with both nature and the people we met while staying on Maui, that we didn’t want to leave.
Now that we are home, I still feel a bit like I’m back in Hawaii. I don’t know how long this will last. Hopefully forever. Because I found a piece of myself, or perhaps I grew a piece of myself, that I never had before. It’s wonderful, and beautiful, and I feel transformed from it.
I’m not sure exactly how the rest of my family feels about how Maui changed them. They all agree that it was special. Perhaps I’m seeing things through a new mental lens, but they seem different to me, too. They all seem lighter, happier, more complete, or something.
Whatever happened, it wasn’t just a family vacation. It wasn’t just a field trip to look at something and ooh and aah. It was more than that. It was Maui.